BLUE ZONE SERIES: MOAI & THE IMPORTANCE OF CONNECTION
GO BEHIND THE SOCIAL SUPPORT GROUPS THAT PLAY A KEY ROLE IN THE OKINAWAN WAY OF LIFE
As one of only five blue zones around the world, Okinawa and its people understand the tenets of well-being. A core principle on this island that lends to longevity is having social support groups that start in childhood, with around five young children in each group, and extend through the entire course of a person’s life.
These social support groups, known as moais (pronounced “mo-eyes”), originally began as a means of pooling financial resources among the locals for projects, public installations, and emergencies. Over time, these moais evolved and expanded further—beyond just monetarily—to provide social, spiritual, and day-to-day support. A moai, which means “meeting for a common purpose,” typically shares similar goals and values, and they make a lifelong commitment to be friends and even a second family to one another.
The benefits of having a moai can extend to your health and life expectancy, as research from Harvard Medical School shows that social connection correlates to longevity of life. The school cites that loneliness carries the same risk factor as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, potentially shortening a person’s lifespan by eight years. A study conducted by the medical school found that brain function and physical health tend to decline the more someone is isolated and feeling less happy.
Across Okinawa, moais gather regularly to see one another and talk about the things that matter to each person, provide and receive advice, and share life experiences together. Around half the population of Okinawa participate in at least one moai, with many people having multiple circles of support that can range from those you know from school, work, church, neighborhood, or a hobby.
Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and author of The Blue Zones, spent time with a 104-year-old Okinawan woman who gathered a couple times a week with her moai of four women, all of whom made a lifelong commitment to each other at a young age to be in this circle. They symbiotically relied on one another through all the ups and downs that life presented to them. With one in every 1,450 Japanese people being at an age over 100—and women accounting for more than 88% of centenarians—having a moai, especially for women, is a vital component to leading a long, healthy life.